TWO separate reviews are to take place on the future of community maternity units, including Devizes and Malmesbury.

The Kennet and North Wiltshire Primary Care Trust was due to make a decision on whether to close Devizes and Malmesbury maternity units in September.

But a delay in starting a survey of women has meant a decision will not be made until December and any closures would come into force next April.

The survey, which will ask mothers whether or not they used the community maternity units to give birth and if in the future they would like to use the units, is due to start soon with the results being reported to the trust's board meeting on September 23.

In a separate move the West Wiltshire Primary Care Trust, which is paid by the Kennet and North Wiltshire PCT, provides maternity services in eight hospitals, including Devizes, Malmesbury and Chippenham, is to review whether the service is efficient and effective.

Ann Nash, the acting director of maternity services at West Wiltshire Primary Care Trust, said: "Some primary care trusts have severe financial pressures and the issue of maternity units has been raised at meetings we have had with them.

"There was a review undertaken by Wiltshire Health Authority about three years ago which found that the number of beds in community maternity units was low and it wanted rationalisation to happen."

Due to the abolition of the health authority and the setting up of primary care trusts no changes were made to maternity units at that time.

The new review will attempt to find out what the current position is on bed occupancy and usage of the maternity units.

Ms Nash was yesterday meeting with midwives and will meet with National Childbirth Trust members and mothers next Wednesday at Trowbridge Hospital.

She said: "I am meeting with staff and users to get their views on the review and after I have had those meetings we will decide how the review will take place."

The review will start at the beginning of August and will be completed by the end of September.

Individual primary care trusts will discuss the results of the review, probably in October or November.

Juliana Beardsmore, of Malmesbury National Childbirth Trust, said she did not know whether the survey delay would have a positive or negative effect on Malmesbury unit.

"With the short timescale it is difficult to see how the PCT will be able to get the results of the survey in time,"she said.

"I can't speculate if it will fall in the unit's favour or disfavour. I am not going to second guess them."

Meanwhile, Mrs Beardsmore has designed and distributed leaflets with midwives to encourage women to book the hospital for their birth. The leaflets have been funded by the Malmesbury Hospital's League of Friends and 2,000 have been distributed.

Mrs Beardsmore said the main aim of the leaflet was to raise the awareness of the unit's availability to women outside the Malmesbury catchment area.

The leaflets therefore have been distributed in Wootton Bassett, Cricklade and West Swindon.

"The message we are keen to re-enforce is that any woman who is at all interested should contact the maternity unit directly," she said.

"They can book an appointment with a midwife and come and see the unit, even if they are booked elsewhere."

Mrs Beardsmore said they were not expecting a particularly quick response from the leaflets but she did believe they might encourage women to ask their midwives about giving birth at the hospital.

"Come and have a look is the key message to get through to people who could make the difference," she added.

She believes if women go to the hospital, see it for themselves and meet the midwives they will want to book a place.

Mrs Beardsmore said a smaller unit had many advantages, including a longer length of stay if mothers wish and less intervention in birth as well as greater help with breast feeding.